Category Archives: Photography

One last word….

I’ve been packing and seeing friends today as I will leave at 11 PM for the airport. Hanging out in “my” room, I finish the last few uploads of my blog.   Antara comes in to chat and say goodbye and she presents me with a gift – a beautiful choker necklace which I will cherish.  She is my good friend, always there every step of the way on this journey and even before I arrived in India. We had emailed each other for many months about supplies – but more than that, we have laughed and discussed life, politics, just about everything – she is a bundle of special energy and sparks my day each time I see her.   I tearfully say my goodbye to her – I promise I will return as soon as I can.

We are taking photos of Shamlu and me and the staff when Bobo comes bounding out of his room – he knows I’m off to somewhere and that his friend won’t be here to play for a while, so the journey ends as it began, with a large black dog.

Family portrait

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Jaipor and the tears of an elephant…

Jaipor as I enter the city

Ah Jaipor, the pink city of palaces, rich in culture and beauty.  This drive is a very pleasant one, and as we get closer to Jaipor, the barren land gives way to lush mountainous scenery – we are in the foothills of the Himalayas.  I can hardly contain myself as I now see the beginnings of the wall surrounding the city, the Amber Fort. I is an improbable sight as the walls wind around the high mountainous region of the city and can be reached by elephant or on foot, but you’d have to be hardy as it reaches thousands of feet high. It was built over 400 years ago and provided security from the opposing tribes and armies.  I ask the driver to stop so I can take a few pictures and then am happily greeted by a line of decoratively painted elephants returning from their days work at the fort, carting tourists up and down the steep winding pathways to the upper palace area.  This is so different from the way I felt in Delhi, I am anxious to get to the hotel

Choki Dhani

and then go off to explore at Chokhi Dhani, an ethnic Rajasthani village.

young musicians and dancers at the village

The village is a a working one with a miniature version of the entire area of Jaipor. Families perform dances and music, magic, palm reading and  there is a shopping area lit by torches,each “shop” is beautifully painted with typical Rajasthani art. The people of this region are rich in culture and their royal heritage. their dress is colorful and ornate and their dances defy gravity and coordination. I am delighted. As one enters the village you are showered with flower petals, your forehead is painted with the ethnic colors of red and yellow.  The visit includes an entire evening of entertainment and dinner t a choice of original restaurants serving Rajasthani food in the traditional way – large chairs, lavish cutlery and serving practices. I feel like royalty and settle down to a great meal, watching the musicians and dancers perform. Then I wander through the village, I can take a camel or elephant ride (no thank you), shop for ethnic spices and clothing, weaving or just sit under the moonlit sky in a huge rocking chair built for a queen.  As I walk around the villagers ask me “mem sab” (honored one or beautiful lady – depending on who says it – to join their dance, play an instrument , and many ask to take my picture. They are beautiful people both physically and soulfully, and I enjoy my time there until the driver appears and we head to the hotel to rest up for the tons of sightseeing tomorrow.

I join in the festivities

After meeting my guide,  a very charming and knowledgeable man we drive to the Hawa Mahal for pictures, then on to the Amber Fort to see the wall and the palace buildings and to photograph the elephants .  We climb the steps to the fort since I refuse to ride the poor elephants, overworked by thousands of tourist rides all day long, and marvel at the breathtaking views from the top, overlooking the entire city. This fort is a wonder and looks a little like the Great Wall of China it has been compared to. It was built in the 16th century and is indeed amber in color.

Hawa Mahal

elephants at Amber Fort

I walk down to the court to see the majestic elephants in all their glory and stop to stroke the trunk of one who has no riders on top. She looks at me sorrowfully  and I can’t believe my eyes but she is crying. I then hear a terrific thud and see a man beat another elephant over the head with an iron rod, the noise is so loud everyone turns and I impulsively scream NO!!! . My guide tells me not to get involved, that there are animal rights activists trying to stop the use of elephants and camels for tourism. And yes he says, that elephant was crying as she was tired, hot and frightened.  These 150 majestic creatures of God must work all day carrying tens of thousands of tourists to the top of the fort and bottom. I ask if they are at least well cared for since the visitors each pay 700 rupees for a 10 minute ride and he responds that no, they are mistreated. I would think the opposite since this is their livelihood, but I am mistaken. I tell my guide I want to leave as soon as possible, my heart is aching and I can’t take another minute of watching this abuse.

the top of the fort

I can’t speak for a while and wander off to shoot some photos of the natural surroundings and then return to the car to see the City Palace, which is still home to the royal family of Jaipor. This is a remarkable building so well planned that even 400 years ago they recycled the water and even invented an “air conditioning” system for the heat and the cold weather. The place has 4 main gates, each representing a different aspect of the earth and the wildlife. My favorite is the peacock gate, with crushed gems and vegetable coloring to decorate the ornate doors and wall with images of peacocks. The summer part of the palace has vents for sunlight to come into the building but it is then deflected to avoid getting too hot. There are terraces where the Maharani and maharaja sat at night to watch the moon and constellations and listen to their court musicians perform. Water from fountains was used as a mist mixed with jasmine and rose petals to cool the rooms, the scent must have been amazing and so romantic!  Across from this end of the palace is the “winter” quarters where hundreds of jewel like mirrors have been geometrically cut in such a way that when a fire is lit inside the room, the heat is retained and there was no need for blankets. This engineering was introduced from Belgium and is both practical and gorgeous.

winter palace mirrored walls

close up of the jeweled walls

The maharani lived there until her death one year ago at the age of 94. She was said to have been the most beautiful maharani ever, and from the pictures I think tat is an accurate description. She is more beautiful than Ingrid Bergman in her heyday or even Grace Kelly. She was also a great benefactress and let out all the buildings to the families of the original artisans so that their craft of weaving and art, jewelry making will continue to be passed down to each generation.

After speaking to one of the artists there, I find out that all of the family members of these royal artisans are given the studios for free to show their wars and work in them. The maharaja also used the funds from tourism and the selling of crafts to start and maintain several schools and homes for girls.  She was much admired and in all of India, this is one principality that has remained at their original palace and are still revered.

Observatory and the sun dial

Next stop is the Mantar Observatory and museum  which is a completely natural observatory containing a sundial that is accurate within 27 seconds. It is in the Guinness Book of World records . The sundial isn’t all though, there are other instruments that tell the phases of the moon and the constellations as well as astrological timings. When a child was born they were brought to the observatory to determine the astrological aspects of the timing of the birth. If I had the time, I could have had my entire chart completed just using the outdoor instruments, no computers as we use today.

another view of all the equipment at the observatory

nearby market in Jaipor

I then ask if we can just walk to a temple and a park to get a feel for the area that is “shop free” and my wish is granted. All over Jaipor there are gorgeous and well maintained parks and gardens as the Rajasthani people took their health very seriously and believed in fresh air and sun in tier daily life of prayer, work play and the practice of outdoor yoga.  I can relax and stop thinking about the elephants for a bit.

Jol Palace (floating in the water)

The day is almost complete and I have changed my flight  – I will leave in the early morning instead of staying another full day. I am homesick for Udayan and want to get back to see the children for one more afternoon.

After a lively dinner at an authentic dinner which includes entertainment by young Rajasthani musicians singing lyrical songs in beautiful voices along with two girls dressed in traditional colorful and gorgeous scarves and jewels who twirl with pottery on their heads and dance on swords (ouch), I am off to sleep so I can make the flight at 7 AM.

Rajasthani princess NOT!

sunset in the oasis of beauty

I fly into Kolkata and go straight from the airport to Udayan for one last goodbye. As I arrive the kids scream and shout my name, surrounding me with hugs and kisses. They ask me to stay for lunch and I am called in and asked to be seated in the front of the dining hall. There I am presented with a giant garland of marigolds and a brass statue of the god Shiva. I thank them trying not to cry and ask that my words be translated a bit so the real meaning is understood. I tell them that it is they who should be thanked for allowing me the honor of working with them and for the way in which I was welcomed into the Udayan family.  I am , forever there in spirit and they will always be in my heart.

My tenure is over and I return to Kolkata  to pack up and get ready for my late night flight on Saturday. One last party Shamlu says, so off we go again – isn’t this how it all started?

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Agra and the Seventh wonder of the World

Her Majesty

Early morning we set off for what is supposed to be a 4 hour trip to see the Taj Mahal but ends up being an 8 hour trip!  I keep reminding myself that I am here to see this 7th wonder of the world and sleep for much of the ride.  We arrive very late and are greeted by our guide rushing to get as much time in as possible.  There are  no fuel operated cars in the area of the Taj Mahal due to the effects of pollution, so we board an electric bus and are off!  I can hardly contain myself. Stepping off the bus I have a glimpse of the majestic building and gasp, it is unbelievable!  We must now cover our shoes with special socks so that the marble is not destroyed by so many visitors.  Stepping through the gates I am not prepared for my reaction and nearly cry as I see the Taj Mahal, I pinch myself – I’m really here!  I think most of the time my mouth is open in a half smile, half gasp, looking all around I listen to the story of this majesty before me but can’t stop looking everywhere as the guide tells us the background of the building, it is a story of intrigue, great unending love, tragedy and betrayal. Sort of a Shakespearean play.

guest quarters

The Taj Mahal was built as one of three last wishes of the Maharani as she was on her deathbed. She was the third wife of the great Maharaja but his favorite and reported to be the most beautiful.  The Maharaja rushed to her side and she asked him to do three things: one to never remarry, two, to always take care of her 14 children and third, to build a large and beautiful palace as a tribute to his love for her.  She died shortly after he agreed to these wishes and spent many years at the side of her tomb, never leaving her side, not socializing and in mourning for a very long time until his daughter begged him to remember her last wish  – build the Taj Mahal. Work began and as it was nearing the finish he began to build a “black palace” for himself, but was imprisoned by the third son of his other wife who wished to prevent him from passing his empire onto his older brother.  And so, the great Maharaja spent the remainder of his very long life inside the walls of another building able to only gaze at the breathtaking creation his had built for his beloved wife.

servant's quarters

The Taj Mahal defies words, as it is too beautiful to describe, but  will try. It is made of a very special marble produced in Agra that is translucent and is cut in many ways similar to a diamond in order to achieve the perfect reflection of light, thus the changing colors at different times of the day.   Diamonds and gold used to be in the cuts of the ceilings and arches of the gates, but they were removed by the British during the war of independence. The flowers gracing in perfect symmetry are actually inlaid intricately hand cut semi precious gems found in Agra. Each piece of lapis, tiger’s eye, mother of pearl and carnelian is shaved and cut into a myriad of pieces to make the flowers. Each of the four entrances and inside the building these flowers grace the walls. In addition, the marble is hand carved to make beautiful shapes along all the walls of the inside and outside.  At each of the four entrances, the Koran is carved as well and inside a specific chapter is carved around the entire main room which contains the tomb of the Maharaji  – this is in perfect symmetry to the four walls and faces West towards the mecca of Islam. One thing is unsymmetrical and that is the tomb which lies next to hers – that of the great Maharaji who died and was laid to rest beside his one true love.  It is a love story, but is also a tragedy, his “black palace” is seen in the distance, never completed and used now as a park area.

We leave the Taj, I am walking backwards to savor every last minute of this amazing place and go onward to a workshop to see the ancient way the carving of the temple and gem cutting that was used to make the decorative designs of the Taj Mahal. It is wonderful and I can’t imagine how anyone could be patient enough to do this painstaking and creative work.

One last look

It is getting late and for reasons I may never understand, we must return to Delhi, instead of continuing on to Jaipor – which would have been the logical thing to do. Instead we are traveling another 8 hours (!) only to wake early tomorrow to head to Jaipor.  We have spent 16 hours in the car for a 2 hour journey back in time to the days of majesty.  It was totally worth the hassle, but I would suggest another route to anyone desiring to visit the ‘golden triangle”.

Arriving at midnight, I am to tired to eat and crash with my clothes on. I can’t wait to get out of Delhi and visit Jaipor.

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Culture shock…

Quntab Minar

Arriving in Delhi I immediately am “homesick” for Kolkata. Though both are big cities, Kolkata exudes a warmth and sense of belonging – community – and Delhi seems to be a bustling, busy and somewhat impersonal place.  A kind face is waiting for me at the airport, so I relax a little and settle in for the ride to the hotel. Culture shock!  I have stayed in Kolkata for 7 weeks and at the school living with the children, but I am not prepared for this hotel, just off the road in the middle of nowhere.  I am told not to leave the hotel as it is not safe for a woman at any time in this location. Welcome to Delhi.  Not very happy, I retreat to my room which is the size of a closet and dark.

What to do?  I grab a guide book and hire the car to take me to the Hyatt for dinner, where I have a great meal and feel more comfortable.  Tomorrow is a big day filled with tons of sightseeing and I decide to just give in and get some sleep.

Carvings of the Koran

Sikh temple kitchen making roti

Up early for breakfast and to meet my guide, the staff is friendly and very curious about where I come from , where I’m going. This is common in India, most people are very friendly and love to talk to foreigners.  The food is actually good, so I’m then off to the car and the waiting guide who’s name is Ishwar.  He is a young man and speaks many languages, we hit it off right away and begin the tour.  First is the Qutub Minar, the tallest tower in India, built by a Muslim man in his honor and to show his importance. The buildings are beautiful and the stones are magnificent, but as Ishwar points out, the towers not only contain the writing and decorations of the Koran, many of the beautiful scroll like designs are Hindi, from temples raided by this man to enhance the beauty of his own creation.  It is hard to understand the logic, but I am not to judge and the difficulties between the Hindu and Muslim people for thousands of centuries cannot be changed. I accept it for what it is and we are then on to the next sights – the  India Gate which was built to honor the Indian men who lost their lives serving in the army during World War I and the Raj Ghat which houses the tombs of Mahatma and Indira Ghandi.  Next is the Red Fort (beautiful and massive), Jama Masjid , a beautiful Muslim Mosque.  From the top of the Mosque, we can look down upon the Old Delhi market which was once a shopping area for only woman,  as tradition had the woman and men separated.  It is buzzing and Iswhar and I descend the steps to walk around and have some masala chai.  Next is Rashtrapati Bhavan which is the President’s house and is amazing in it’s architecture and beauty.  It is surrounded by Parliament and Commerce buildings and reminds me a little of Washington DC in its location and layout.

SNAKE!

Charming...

Highlight of the day:  Ishwar has noticed that I am a spiritual person, and dedicated to community service, so he has a surprise for me.  We enter Bangla Shahib, a Sikh Temple, grand and welcoming. We must take our shoes off and he must cover his head as do all the Westerners. I am wearing my salwar kameez and have my chunni which covers my head and arms, so I have no problems!   This religion is dedicated to community service as an act of godliness in every day practice. Those who run the various parts of the temple take no compensation as they feel it is a privilege to serve God in any way.  The rooms are large and beautiful with chanting and prayers going on continuously.  One must wash their hands and face before and after entering as an act of purifying oneself in the sight of God.  Ishwar ushers me into another room, a huge marble banquet hall, completely bare but spotless and he explains that at lunch time, anyone from anywhere- regardless of race, social or economic status, religion, country of origin may have a complete meal prepared in a gigantic kitchen by workers who are there to serve God as well.  Again, no compensation other than a feeling of goodwill.  We are invited into the kitchen and huge vats of vegetables, daal (yum!) and massive amounts of roti are being made by about 100 people. They smile and ask me to sit at a tiny work table  – the bench is hopelessly low to the ground and I must be twice if not three times the height of most of them, so it s a challenge and a great feat when I do sit legs crossed.

I am shown how to roll the dough for the roti, and after being corrected a few times by a very kind (and patient ) woman, I get the hang of it and am really on a roll (no pun intended) when I realize that I have produced about 10 to their 50 , so I thank them and they ask me to take a few pictures which of course delights me.  I leave there in peace and remark that this religion is one that should be emulated. Ishwar tells me that only 7% of the population is Sikh – what a shame.  As we leave the temple, he instructs me to cover my right hand over my left in a cup like position to accept a sweet offering to eat as a way to send one off with good thoughts for the day.

Old Delhi market

Outside the mosque

posing for "mem sab"

dinner time

Kashmir weaving demonstration

At the very end of the day, we have one more stop and that is at a workshop taught by a master Kashmir weaver.  Only Kashmir family members are working at this craft which is the most intricate of all.  The rugs they produce can take more than 2 years to weave.  The fur from only a certain part of the goat is used and must be collected, not shaven, from where it has shed in the woods. Once collected by the nimble fingers of the women, it is died to the palette specifications of the chief designer, usually the head of the family. He then draws the design and drafts in onto graph paper, line by line, it is so mathematical. Then the wool is woven and died according to his notes which are handwritten for each line of the design of the rug!  One line can be done in a week, not any faster, and then once it is complete, the threads are shaven and the process continues.  All of this work is kept solely by the family so that the design cannot be duplicated. Depending on the intricacy of the work, over 900 knots per square inch (!) are made, the end result being rugs of many sizes. We look at the different weaves and knots per sq. inch and I sit on the rugs having a cup of chai, it is luxurious and I am hypnotized by this kindly old professor – he smiles lovingly at the rugs as he explains the process. I’ve just had a two hour workshop and am in heaven, I feel that today I have accomplished a lot. and am so thankful to my guide. We are to go to Agra tomorrow to see the Taj Mahal, and Ishwar is not supposed to come, but I ask him to since he is so knowledgeable and I will feel more comfortable having another man with me as I travel alone in the car. We agree on the time and go our separate ways for dinner.

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The big event: art show and paparazzi…

before the guests arrive, anticipation

Today is the big day, the newspaper printed another small article as a reminder – we are hoping for a large turnout.  As we finish the final touches having labeled and priced each painting, I go back to the house to dress.  Thank goodness for Meera once again, my hands are shaking and I can’t figure how to wrap the beautiful Kantha sari I’ve chosen to wear. from   Once wrapped properly, she helps me place a bindi on my forehead and then picks out the jewelry to go with the sari. Antara, Archana and Shamlu give a thumbs up of their approval and we are off to the Palladian.

As we arrive I am greeted by my new friend Shalome who is one of the administrators there and he is amazed at my transformation from a racing maniac hanging paintings to a (somewhat) serene woman in Indian dress. He remarks that I look as though I have worn a sari all my life and I must admit I do feel very comfortable.

admiring some of the art with the students

say "cheese"!

the artists and their work

One last check at all the work, a bit of leveling each collage and we are ready for the troops. The children arrive promptly at 5 PM, and they rush to me hugging, kissing and admiring my outfit. Even the boys tell me that “auntie” looks like a “princess” and I laugh.  After they settle down I tell them to look around at all they’ve created and that this exhibit is for them; had they not been such great, talented students we wouldn’t be here having a show.  They are bubbling now with anticipation and I can see how proud they are and it makes my heart fill with joy.  This is the best time – seeing their expressions. I am so happy for them.  We take many pictures and the staff is there to pose with me and the children ask for photos with me as well.

Guest are arriving and I must leave the kids to greet everyone, then the media comes, many more than I expected – TV, magazines and 4 newspapers to cover the event. The children’s eyes are a s big as saucers, they are awestruck.

The journalists and photographers grab me for shots with the kids, on my own, with the work and then they interview me and a few of the students asking about the meaning of their individual collages and what it was like to work in this medium and with me.  Their expressions tell me the whole story and I can’t stop smiling.  One fashion magazine pulls me aside to take photos of my outfit and then I’m grabbed by some more of the media.   This joint is jumping and I see some of the chief guests arrive, it is time to start the opening ceremony. We have speeches and a candle lighting ceremony and Shamlu speaks as do the main guests,  one of whom is a very famous artist. He pronounces the work and the show to be a success and the frenzy begins as the viewers start to purchase the work and ask some of the children to explain the technique and the meaning of their collages.  We sell out of the greeting cards Antara has printed and soon about 12 large works are sold.  I am asked to say a few words which are mostly directed to the children, had it not been for Udayan I wouldn’t have come to India and not have had the great privilege of working with these children. They have made this experience complete and I thank them for that.  I tell them to continue to work in my absence and that a seed has been planted, it must be nurtured by practice and continued creativity.  Then Antara and a few of the Udayan girls perform a special song they’ve practiced for the event. (Antara sings like a songbird and teaches singing with an open heart).

Antara and her choir perform

Our honored guest speaks to the children about their great work

Shamlu makes a welcome speech

Soon it is time for cocktails so the children must leave and we say goodbye tearfully. I promise to come before heading back to the US.  The party now is in full swing and when I’m not being interviewed by the press I am meeting with many who are interested in the how and why and also the specific technique I use.  So many people, so much interest and love in that room.  After it winds down I am finally able to sit and take a breathe. Then  Karuna suggests we go for a small dinner and the party continues. We toast to the continued success of the show as it will be on for 3 days, saying our goodnights and head back to our respective homes. Giddy from the success of the exhibit, we all collapse, happy but exhausted. Someone calls to say the TV has aired the art show and interviews, but I don’t know which station so I don’t get a chance to see it.

presentation of flowers and the opening ceremony


A word of thanks

Thursday morning I am called by the editor of Society Magazine for another phone interview and after a very productive conversation she tells me the magazine will be out in March or the very latest April.  April will mark the one year since I met Shamlu , very auspicious. I think we make a good team.

the girls take a guest on a tour of their work

Today I will shift over to Karuna’s as there is a scheduling conflict with a guest from France – I am to stay at a 110+  Maharaja’s summer palace for the next few nights until I head to Delhi.  This is a rare treat and the palace is grand.  The royalty was “abolished” in 1955 during the fight for independence, though the maharajas were permitted to keep their titles, they had to give up much of their land holdings. In this palace only a small part of this huge, historic building is used for living quarters and the rest is let out for affairs such as weddings. Karuna has invited me to the Oberoi Hotel for yet another fashion show to launch a new energy drink. I am greeted at the door by the organizer of the event and the head of the drink company – we met last night at the art show. Much hugging and kissing occurs and so once again the paparazzi hones in- there are many who were there last night and they recognize me (how could they not – an American in a salwar kameez).  We leave after mingling with many of the people I have come to know during this 7 week stint, we exchange cards and some of the more prominent men have promised me that they will do some networking to get funding for me to return next year. There is no money for art supplies when the children need linens and toothbrushes and other personal hygiene products. Having done my share, we return to the palace and I sleep well having dreams that seem like fairytales.

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Back to Kolkata..more paint, (Auntie get us red – lal- and more glue)

Leaving Udayan after the Republic Day ceremonies, I head for Kolkata to get some more papers, paint and matte medium which is our glue.  Shamlu is waiting with wonderful food and Meera is there with her beatific face and warm heart.  Shamlu has some plans she must tend to and I am left with Bobo, a blossoming garden and quiet. I take advantage of the peace to write in the blog and return emails and meditate. Wow, I have neglected my meditation, always on the go at the school and it centers me, I am in a good state of mind.

Republic day ceremonies

Accomplishing a lot, Meera comes in almost without a sound and gently asks me to eat some dinner. I relish this time without the hustle and bustle of the social life here in Kolkata and as much as I am missing the children of Udayan, I am happy for the solitude. Bobo and I play for half an hour in the lush gardens in back of Shamlu’s house, then I come in, he’s tired me out and I am ready to settle down with a book I’ve been reading- “The Camel Knows the Way” by Lorna Kelly.  She worked as a volunteer here in Kolkata in 1981 under the tutelage  of Mother Teresa.  It’s a very interesting book and I’m glad to recognize some of her haunts that are still here and thriving.

Victoria memorial

One of Shamlu’s friends, Shukti, calls to invite me to spend tomorrow with her.   She wants to show me the Victoria Memorial, the Writers Building and then off to New Market, one of the oldest markets in Kolkata. There, everything is under one roof and you can get anything from saris and jewelry household items and linens. It is remarkable and overwhelming. Turning corner after corner you could spend an entire year’s salary here and Shukti knows all the best places. We go to one store where she has a relationship with the owner.  He shows me his hand made Pashmina scarves, one side silk, the other pashmina. So beautiful, I choose 3 as gifts.  Then there are boxes hand crafted by artisans working with crushed gems stones. Each one is different so you must scrutinize the design to find the most perfect piece.  After I feel like I can’t imagine purchasing another thing, he asks about the jewelry in the cases before us. I hone in on a pendant and choker and the shopkeeper then shows me the matching earrings and ring.  What to do!  Shukti tells me not to worry, she haggles for me and I do make out like a bandit.   She is a remarkable woman who is here to visit her elderly mother having grown up in Kolkata.  She is now living in Wayne, New Jersey so we are neighbors. I like her very much – she is forthright , genuine and very fun to be with. We share a little about ourselves and discover that we have a lot in common, including a love of music. So, the next stop is to find the CDs Shukti bought yesterday and misplaced them. We first go off to Flury’s, a bake shop that is 100 years old and was mentioned in the book I am reading. It is a wonderland of delicacies including Indian pastries and croissants, not to mention the chocolate treats that are so enticing. You could gain weight just looking at them. I buy a few treats for Shamlu and off we go to search for the missing music.  Ending up at Musicworld, she finds them , but I have now wandered off in search of the CD that is currently playing in the store. 5 CDs later, Shukit pulls me out of the shop before I break the bank. I can’t help it, the Bengali music is hypnotic and I love to work in the studio to music. I find a CD the girls will love and another for the Udayan boys. I will give them to the school when I leave to return home.  It is s small gift for the wondrous experience they have given me.  Then I have business to tend to, there is an opening at the Palladian Lounge, the venue for our upcoming exhibition, and I want to see how they have hung the work and priced each piece. I must also approve the invitations and make sure the information about me and the students is correct.  As I am meeting with them, some of the dignitaries I have met once before say hello as if I am an old friend. We discuss the show, and then get down to the business of logistics for my show.  As a meal is served (I am stuffed) I meet the wife of the French General Counsel and we chat away about France, cheese and wine, and Provence where my mother has her summer home. She is a lovely person, knowledgeable and so open, it’s nice to speak a little French with her.

New Market

.

We end up at Shukti’s home for a quick bite of dinner, of course it is delicious, and then I’m “home” at Shamlu’s. She is waiting for me and we spend the rest of the evening chatting and laughing and I teach her a few things about editing photographs on the Mac.  Both of us say goodnight at 2 AM, we’ve talked so much. Shamlu is a great conversationalist and very funny.

Thursday comes, I’ve had some weird dreams and am surprised I’ve slept past 7 AM.  I start off by Skyping home and say hi to the kids and Rick, Meera walks in looking at me like I’m nuts – I’m talking to a computer and she comes over to see if there’s a picture and there’s none. I try to explain that I’m talking to the family, so she says “namaskar” and the children say hello back. She leaves the room laughing.   Antara and crew come in for the day’s work, and we do some work on the publicity end of the show and for the sake of fundraising for the school. They ask for the photographs I’ve taken of Udayan and then ask for a blurb to be written by me. I spend much of the day writing, and we all end up eating the goodies from Flury’s and chatting, it’s like hanging out with my girlfriends. I show them some of the things I’ve bought and they like most of them.  Antara is laughing, her eyes wide as she looks at one of the kameezes I have purchased – it is one of my favorites, definitely a little funky.  Shamlu HATES the kameez I’ve bought from a local designer, though I say it’s the artist side of me that likes it, the embroidery and design are unique.

So, here I am once again writing away, then we are off to a dinner with friends I’ve met before and a newscaster and his wife.  Socializing here is business and pleasure and I must do my part for the art show and for my passion – the children of Udayan.

It is Friday and I’m supposed to go back to Udayan, but before I return Antara and I have an appointment along the way to a frame shop that is supposed to be top notch.   I love being with her, she has been my guide, my friend and the “go to ” person every step of the way – teaching me Bengali, listening and gently offering advice when needed.  The children adore her at the school, she is on premises quite often, teaching and guiding the girls, what a natural!

After 5 attempts to find this place, way out in the far reaches of Kolkata, we enter iron gates that lead to a deserted street. I think this has to be a mistake until a guard comes up and directs us to another tunneled dark street with nothing  but what looks to be garages.  There we see the sign for the shop, it is a warehouse.  This shop frames for most of the major hotels, museums and galleries. I walk in and feel right at home. It smells like my frame shop in New York and everyone is working diligently.  Looking at the frames on display, I know we are in the best of hands.  We are escorted to the master framer’s  office and are served tea, then we get down to the technical aspects of framing a collage – acid free paper, hinged mounting and a simple but elegant frame. Satisfied, we say goodbye and are once again off to my final destination, Udayan. As we round the winding congested streets, I try to absorb everything from the character of the crazy streets to the shacks along the way – women in saris, rickshaws, people selling fruit, doing their laundry, children playing and bathing, even brushing their teeth.

I know this will be my last time this year going towards Barrackpore.  I will leave the school on the 8th of February to hang the show.  I will see the children only at the art exhibit, not at the school. It will also be the last time Antara and I share this trip together and I will miss her company so much.

As we enter the school loaded with paint and paper, glue and clothing that friends here have collected for the children the kids scream “auntie, auntie you’re here you’re here !”

I savor this, they brighten my day and then there are hugs and hand holding and curiosity about what is in the huge bag.  They don’t ask for chocolates, they are just happy that I’m back and all of them ask when their painting class will be scheduled.  I have class in the afternoon until 6 PM , the students finish 4 more spectacular collages.

I retire early as Saturday will be a full day, a big push to start more of the school in the art room, and some of the young artists who had almost finished but then had exams. We are to complete these pieces so that they can go to the framer on Monday.  I say a goodbye to the work, it will be framed and sold – I will only have the photographs and my memories to visit them again. It is an accomplishment, but difficult to part with.

The kids are amazing – they finish 4 more large collages and we call it quits.  More of “my kids” are gathered outside the art room door and greet me with “good evening auntie”. I tell them about the moon which is to be full and the largest most spectacular full moon this year too. We stare at the sky and are silent. There is a breeze, the scent of the flowers in the garden in full bloom, birds are chirping and the resident puppies have come out to play.  This truly is a beautiful place, I know I’ll mss it very much.

After the group goes off to play before dinner, the older boys are waiting to tell me about the exams and talk about art and their girlfriends. They laugh and joke with me, speaking half Bengali, half Hindi and I chime in with a mixture of both and mostly English.  This has become a routine after I finish class, they are usually waiting to hang out a bit. I so enjoy them. We say goodbye, they must study and I’m off to my room to catch up on my writing and have a cup of tea.  I feel serene and fulfilled.

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Press Conference, photo shoot and a request to stay on…..

Photo Op for the newspaper with Father , Shamlu and the young artisits

the interview

Today is the day of the press conference about my work here as a collagist and teacher. We will discuss the exhibition and the progress of the children in the art class. At least 15 collages are finished (miracles never cease) in this very short time and I summon the boys and girls who have produced this incredible work. They are to be interviewed as well and photographed. They are quite shy at first, then warm up to a very nice young woman reporter.  Shamlu has arrived with the press and the girls and I present her and the reporter with bouquets of flowers. Father Stevens looks dapper in his rose we’ve put in his lapel.

I’m not as nervous as I thought I would be, now feeling confident that we will make our target for at least 30 works of art. Seeing the collages side by side as alleviated any trepidation I might have had, they look terrific and the kids are so proud.

After photographing all the work and the children and me “working”, the photographer takes a few portraits of me – now I’m nervous!  Then tea and sweets are served, the children go back to their studies and the Telegraph reporter and I get down to the nitty gritty. She asks tough and thought provoking questions regarding the differences between teaching kids in the States and here, wondering if there is a difference in their ability to create. I tell her that all children have an innate ability to create, they just need the tools and an open , “unpolluted” mind – away from cell phones, TV and other distractions.  But it has been my experience in all the places I have taught that a little respect and gentle prodding goes a long way. Eventually all children settle down into their own world, their imagination and the tactile nature of my technique makes “painting” more approachable. The fact that we use paper, instead of going directly onto canvas makes it less daunting – if you don’t like what you’ve started, then you move the paper around, or simply discard it and make fresh papers.

She also asks me if this work with the children of Udayan has changed me. Of course!  I appreciate the simple things now, as I too don’t have cell phone and other distractions, just the natural beauty of this country and the thirst for knowledge these children have. Not to mention the warmth of the Bengali people. I have felt at home since I stepped off the plane.

I am asked if I will return and I again say that if I am asked I definitely will, this time without the constraints of an upcoming art show.  Art is process oriented, I’ve always found it more satisfying to work for the sake of creating than for a deadline. If I am to return (and I will do my very best to take advantage of my multiple entry visa) then I would want to teach everyone, with no agenda other than the pleasure of watching these children blossom.

finishing touches

the art room in full swing

After the interview and the giant cleanup of the art room, Taniele and I decide to go into Barrackpore once again for another wonderful meal and some more CDs. We exchange the VCDs that don’t work on the laptop for 2 DVDs t o watch in the evening.  The servers at the cafe recognize us (I wonder why)  and even remember our favorite appetizers and drinks, as well as the green chiles we love so much. Satiated, we say goodbye and hail a rickshaw only to find it’s the same driver from the last time. He is so happy to see us he doesn’t want to charge us, but we insist!  This skinny man is working his butt of literally to get us to the gate. I don’t even want to think of the weight he is pulling on this little vehicle.  Arriving at the school, we say goodnight, I have a huge day of art classes and Taniele has the sports games in full tilt tomorrow.

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